X Consortium Definition

The MIT X Consortium was established in January 1988 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as a non-profit, member-funded vendor group to guide the development of the X Window System in a manner that represented both commercial and educational interests.

The X Window System (often abbreviated as just X) is the dominant system for managing GUIs (graphical user interfaces) on single computers and networks of computers running Unix-like operating systems. It was initially conceived at MIT in 1984 as part of Project Athena. This project was a joint effort by the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), then a leading computer manufacturer, to provide easy access to computing resources for all the students and to allow the existing assortment of incompatible workstations from different vendors to work together. As MIT was not willing to purchase all the workstations needed to create a homogeneous system and because no single vendor appeared willing to donate them, the obvious solution was to develop a platform-independent graphics system to link together its various, heterogeneous systems.

In 1987, with the success of X becoming increasingly apparent, MIT decided to relinquish its stewardship of X and let the consortium stand on its own strengths. However, at a meeting with nine major computer vendors in June of that year, the vendors emphasized that a neutral party was required to prevent X from fragmenting into multiple, incompatible versions in the marketplace, such as had occurred with UNIX.

In 1992, MIT and the membership decided it was in their best interests to move the consortium out of MIT and create an independent organization. The non-profit X Consortium, Inc. was formed in 1993 in Cambridge, Massachusetts (the same Boston suburb as MIT) as the successor to the MIT X Consortium, with a primary goal of increasing the acceptance of X in the marketplace. MIT transferred all rights to X to the new organization on January 1, 1994, and the latter released version X11R6 (Version 11 release 6) in May of that year. X11R6 is the sixth and final major version of the current protocol (X11), and it is still the standard major version today, although it has been updated to X11R6.8.2.

The X Consortium was financially self-supporting through membership fees. There were no license fees associated with the use of the standards and code that it developed. Membership was open to any organization willing to sign and abide by a membership agreement.

In 1995 the X Consortium was named prime contractor for development of the next release of the Motif widget toolkit and the Common Desktop Environment (CDE) for UNIX systems. A widget is a graphical object such a button, checkbox or window, and a widget toolkit is a collection of widgets for building GUIs. The Motif toolkit is designed for use under X on Unix-like systems. CDE is a proprietary (i.e., commercial) desktop environment based on the Motif widget toolkit.

In mid-1996 the X Consortium announced that it would transfer responsibility for X to The Open Group at the beginning of 1997. The Open Group is an industry consortium that was formed in 1996 by a merger of the Open Software Foundation (OSF) and X/Open Company, Ltd (X/Open) for the purpose of establishing standards in software engineering.

With regard to this transfer, it was pointed out that X had become a mainstream technology and that it had matured to the point where a dedicated consortium was no longer essential to support it. It was also stated that X and the computer industry as a whole would benefit greatly by continuing and accelerating the convergence of X, Motif and the CDE. The CDE-Motif project had already been operating under the auspices of The Open Group.

The X Consortium was dissolved at the end of 1996, producing a final revision, X11R6.3, and all rights to the X Window System were transferred to the Open Group.

Created July 30, 2005.
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